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13 Moves to Make You Healthier and Stronger

Strength training exercises that can help you in your daily activities, from vacuuming your home to playing with the grandkids

Functional Fitness

Cody Pickens

Exercises can make everyday activities easier and help you stay strong, healthy and happy

Ever strain your back while carrying laundry? Or find yourself so sore from gardening that you can't stand straight the next day? Some everyday movements require groups of muscles to work together in harmony, and unless you're exercising all of them, you're likely to end up with back or leg pain, says Cris Dobrosielski, author of Going the Distance: The Three Essential Elements of Optimal Lifelong Fitness and Injury Prevention. Save yourself a world of hurt with these situation-specific exercises. For best results, do each set of exercises three times a week.

Around the House

Loading and unloading the dishwasher

All that bending and lifting can torque your lower back unless your hips are flexible.

The fix: Hip hinge

1. Start with your feet hip-width apart, your knees slightly bent, neck long and shoulder blades tucked gently down and in, arms by your sides.

2. Move your hips backward and bend your knees, still keeping your back long and straight. Your torso should lean forward from your hips.

3. Slowly extend your arms straight in front of you. Go only as far as you can while maintaining proper posture.

4. Pause, then slowly rise, straightening your knees and moving your hips and arms back to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Hip hinge exercise

Taking in groceries

Carrying heavy groceries can strain your neck, shoulders and lower back.

The fix: Squat, lift and carry

1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and with small weights on each side of you on the floor.

2. Bend your knees and pick up a weight in each hand. Straighten and walk 10 to 30 paces, then set down the weights.

3. Turn around, pick up the weights and walk back. Repeat 3 times.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Squat, lift and carry exercise

Vacuuming

Running a vacuum cleaner can tire your back and core as you lunge, bend and pivot to clean hard-to-reach places.

The fix: Lunge and reach

1. Start with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent.

2. Step forward with your left leg, bending the left and right knees while reaching forward with your right hand.

3. Rise out of the lunge, coming back to the starting position.

4. Now do a diagonal lunge: Step out with your left leg to the left side while reaching out with your right arm.

5. Repeat on the other side, first stepping forward with your right leg, then rising and lunging out to the right. Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions on each side.

 

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Lunge and reach exercise

Weekend With the Grandkids

Getting up off the floor

Picking yourself up off the floor involves multiple muscles and can be difficult if your upper body is weak.

The fix: Modified push-up

1. Start in an all-fours position on a mat or soft carpet, hands in front of your shoulders, knees on the floor.

2. Slowly lower your torso toward the floor as far as you can, then lift up, extending your elbows as you go. Do 3 sets of 5 to 15 repetitions.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Modified push-up exercise

The fix: Stationary diagonal lunge

1. Stand near a railing, keeping a hand on it for stability.

2. Step to the left, then bend both knees. Rise, switch sides, and repeat. Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Stationary diagonal lunge exercise

Putting a child into a car seat

Bending over with a heavy object (a child) requires strong back and arm muscles. You'll also need to work on building a strong core.

The fix: Squat, lift and twist

1. Start with your feet hip-width apart. While holding a medicine ball (or other weight) in both hands, slowly bend your knees and move your hips backward into a squat.

2. Twist gently to the left, then return to the starting position.

3. Repeat, twisting your torso to the right. Do 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Squat, lift and twist exercise

On the Road

Putting luggage into the overhead bin

Lifting heavy suitcases over your head can tax your back, shoulders, chest and obliques — the muscles that run down the sides of your torso.

The fix: Squat, press and twist

1. Start with your feet hip-width apart and your knees bent.

2. Slowly bend your knees into a mini-squat position, moving your hips backward slightly.

3. Rise out of the squat while lifting a small weight to chest level.

4. Raise the object over your head while twisting gent-ly to the left, then twist back to center and lower the object.

5. Repeat, raising the object to the right side. Do 2 to 3 sets of 5 reps on each side.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Squat, press and twist exercise

Stair climbing

Whether you're touring Rome or hiking in Yellowstone, you'll likely be doing more walking and stair climbing than you would on a normal day.

The fix: Step-up

1. Start with a step stool between 6 and 12 inches high.

2. Step up with your right leg, with your left leg following. Then step down.

3. Next, step up with your left leg first. Do 2 to 3 sets of 5 step-ups on each side.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Step-up exercise

Picking up toys off the floor

If your grandkids are over, there's a good chance the floor is littered with toys. Collect them without pulling a muscle by strengthening the muscles in your back and legs.

The fix: Sumo squat

1. Start with your feet hip-width apart, your toes pointing out slightly and your knees slightly bent.

2. Lower gently into a squat, moving your hips down and back, and bending your torso forward slightly.

3. While in the squatting position, move your right hand toward your left toes, as if picking up an imaginary object.

4. Push up firmly, through your heels and mid-feet, out of the squat.

5. Repeat on the other side, moving your left hand toward your right toes. Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, 3 days a week.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Sumo squat exercise

Recreation

Gardening

Planting, digging and weeding can tax your core, arms and legs. This simple exercise targets them all, making gardening fun — and pain free.

The fix: Bird dog

1. Start from an all-fours position, with your back flat, a neutral pelvis and your eyes looking down.

2. Slowly extend your right arm forward to shoulder height and lift your left leg back and up to hip height.

3. Pause, then slowly lower your arm and leg to the starting position.

4. Repeat on the other side. Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, 3 days a week.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Bird dog exercise

Sports moves

Many sports — from tennis to golf to kayaking — rely on your ability to rotate your torso effectively. This move features a mid-body twist that engages muscles along the entire midsection.

The fix: Hay baler with mini squat

1. Start with your feet hip-width apart, your weight in your mid-feet and heels.

2. Holding a weighted object (such as a medicine ball) beside your left hip, inhale as you slowly bend your knees and move your hips backward into a mini squat.

3. Press evenly into your heels and mid-feet as you rise from the squat, twisting your torso from left to right, while moving the object diagonally across your body and above your right shoulder.

4. Switch sides and repeat. Do 2 to 3 sets of 5 repetitions, 3 days a week.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Hay baler with mini squat exercise

Sex

Inflexible hip joints, upper-body weakness and muscle imbalances can put a damper on your sex life. These two exercises can build and even boost your sexual fitness.

The fix: Bridge

1. Lie flat on your back with both knees bent, arms by your sides.

2. Press your weight evenly into both feet, and slowly raise your lower, middle and then upper back off the floor.

3. Pause when your thighs, hips and chest are in one parallel plane. Keep your neck long to avoid putting pressure on it.

4. Slowly lower your upper, middle and lower back to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, 3 days a week.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Bridge exercise

The fix: Plank

1. Lie facedown on a mat or soft carpet. Align your elbows under your shoulders.

2. Press your forearms and toes into the floor and raise your body off it. Keep your spine in alignment and your lower back flat throughout the exercise.

3. Hold your body in the plank position for 10 to 20 seconds, breathing normally, then slowly lower and rest. Do 3 sets of planks, 3 days a week.

Functional Fitness

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Plank exercise

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